God’s regrets

1 Samuel 15:10-11,”Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.”

Regret is painful. I do not know anyone who does not have regrets in some form or another. “If I had just taken a different path…if I had not spoken those words…if I had studied harder…if I had not gone that day.” Regret for humans is a belief that if we had not done something, the outcome would be different. Regret for God is not the same.

In this scripture it appears the all-knowing, supreme being of God made an error or a bad decision. We all know that God knows the beginning and the end. He holds our future in His hands. Nothing surprises God; but by our definition of regret, this scripture might make us wonder.

God’s decisions are made perfectly and righteously; however, it doesn’t say He enjoys seeing the trials and struggles we have because of those decisions. It was probably disheartening for God, to see the actions of Saul; even though He knew those actions before Saul ever made them.

Remember, when Jesus faced Pilot, He had no doubts as to what would happen. He knew the pain He would endure. He knew the anguish; but, He went through it anyway because of His deep love for us.

God, knowing how Saul would turn-out, chose him to be king anyway. 1 Samuel 15:29, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

God, the Glory of Israel, does not change his mind – He isn’t like us in that regard. What is difficult for Him is seeing the result of the decisions that He made; because of His great love for us, it is hard to watch us mess up. It’s hard to view our choices.

There’s also more to glean from this scripture. When we are disobedient to God, as Saul was, we hurt Him. Many times we don’t think about that. We are caught in the middle of sin and are either trying to hide it from God (impossible) or repenting of it. Either way, we are so self-absorb in our doings, we fail to realize what we are doing to our Savior.

Today, take some time to thank Him for the love He has for you. Apologize for hurting Him with your sin. Rejoice in knowing the depth of love God has for you. Spread that love to those you encounter today.

Fitting through

Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There are times, more than I’d like to admit, that I really don’t want to do the right thing; mainly, because I don’t feel like doing it. Some days, I would rather stay in bed instead of getting up to read my Bible and have prayer time with God. Sometimes, I would rather respond in anger to someone who is out-of-place or rude instead of responding in a calm and appropriate manner; actually,  I’d really like to bop them in the nose! At times, I would rather not stop and pick up a head of cabbage on my way home from work as Connie has requested of me. Often, I’d prefer to watch television instead of mowing the grass; would rather eat lemon cookies than raw carrots; and would rather not listen to complaints about my sermons and just go to lunch. But, bottom line, the way to victory requires discipline and has nothing to do with our feelings. God requires us to do what is right in all situations, not just when we “feel” like it.

God has given us the freedom to choose the right way or the wrong way; but He expects us to choose the right way. To enter the narrow gate, we have to actively pursue God’s Word and live by it obediently. There are days when I don’t feel like living obediently; however, I’ve learned from experience and the school of hard knocks, that it is faith not feelings that leads to eternal life.

Today, choose to do the right thing. Choose God’s way. Be one of the few that finds the small gate leading to the road of eternal life.

Messing up the Cosmos

1 Corinthians 13:5, “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

I spoke to a young man recently searching for his soul mate. He gave me very specific characteristics he wanted in a mate. “The perfect woman for me,” he began and somehow my mind drifted off into 1 Corinthians 13 – the LOVE chapter. I’ve read it thousands of times at weddings and read it thousands of times more in marriage counseling sessions. There is nothing easy about love; but even tougher is living without it.

“I mean, how do you know if you are marrying your soul mate?” he asked. I realized I had left our conversation and quickly attempted to pick up where my mind exited.

I gave him a comical description I recently heard of the whole soul mate dilemma. “Do you realize,” I started, “if you choose the wrong person, let’s say for the sake of argument, and you do not marry your soul mate, then whose soul mate did you marry?”

The fellow stepped back a moment and crossed his arms. “Well,” I continued, “then the person whose soul mate you married will then marry the wrong soul mate because you married her.”

“Makes sense,” he nodded.

“Soon, the person whose soul mate you married, who married the wrong soul mate, who married the wrong soul mate, is forced to marry the wrong soul mate. Before long you are completely responsible for throwing off the entire cosmos all because you chose the wrong person. I don’t think God would entrust our ability to choose a soul mate for this simple reason.”

The young man laughed, “I never thought of it in that way. I was only thinking about myself and my soul mate.”

“Exactly. And LOVE is not self-seeking,” I answered. “You find the person who you can be the perfect mate for. Stop looking for the person who is perfect for you.”

The simple answer to love is to be who you need to be for someone else and stop insisting people be for you what you need them to be. Honor people. Treat people with respect and of value. Stop seeing what you can get out of a relationship and start seeing what you can give to the relationship.  When you have a conflict, pray with the person about it; if that isn’t possible, pray for God to help you resolve and forgive. And when someone hurts you, give it to God and move on. The lists piling up inside you are doing you no good. Don’t keep records of wrong, move passed them.

Today, pray about how you love people. Ask God to help you in your relationships. Honor God by loving the people around you as He asks us to do.

Coming Home

It is always a wonderful feeling to land in the United States. I love to travel and experience new places, cultures, and ideas. I love to meet new and different people. But the greatest part of international travel is returning home. I didn’t even mind the long line which awaited me to validate my passport. As I stood, walking through the marked boundaries for U.S. Citizens, threading through the mazes, I looked at the people around me. On the other side of our line is a different line for non-citizens. Their paperwork is different from mine. Their requirements are as well. As I moved up to the officer’s desk, he stamped my passport, “Welcome home, Mr. Franklin.”

Welcome home. Wow! Those are nice words to hear when you’ve been away. For those of us who are Christian, those are the words we will hear when we cross the threshold of Heaven. Do you ever wonder what it will be like to go home to Heaven?

I’ve been gone for nearly a week. And there is much pressing on my heart to share with you regarding my trip; but for now, I am simply rejoicing in the goodness of God.

While in Belgrade, I visited a magnificent Cathedral called  The Orthodox Temple of Saint Sava Belgrade. It is the largest Orthodox church in use today in Belgrade. It’s name is actually a dedication to Saint Sava, the founder of the Serbian church. It sits perched above the Sava River and its magnificent domed cover is visible from all approaches into the city. As I entered the building, I felt exhausted. The meetings and discussions I had experienced weighed heavily on my heart. My body felt worn-out physically from the time change, emotionally from the issues, and spiritually.

This church had seen its troubles too. Belgrade was bombed in 1941 during WWII and construction on the Temple ceased. The Germans used the erected building as a parking lot. Later the Red Army took over the area and used the church for the same thing. As I took in the elegance and artistry, I thought of the heart aches of all those who had entered this place. How the walls must cry out in pain for all that it has seen; and yet, I felt the presence of God; slowly, rejuvenating my weary soul. Some 5000 miles from everything I know, my family, my friends, and my church, the familiarity of it felt like home.

With my passport stamped and cleared through security, I found my way to the luggage and to my car. I do not know what it will be like when I enter Heaven; probably very similar to what I feel now minus the luggage.

Running on Empty

Tonight as I left the church I am privileged to serve, I noticed my gas gauge – EMPTY. If you are like me, going to the pump hurts. $3.50 a gallon isn’t fun in anybody’s wallet. As I pulled in to pump number 6, I recognized a face I hadn’t seen in a while. A young man who I used to see quite regularly at church. He tucked his head and hid behind a camouflage ball cap. I called out to him and inquired how he had been.

He smiled and shook his head, “I’m ok.”

“I haven’t seen you at church in a long time. I hope you are attending another church? I’d sure hate it if you missing out on church, ” I responded.

“No, sir. Just taking a break.”

He hurriedly finished pumping his gas and fumbled for his keys. I could tell he didn’t know where they were and he was in a panic.

“Then you are empty, aren’t you?”

He paused for a moment, “No. I just filled up.”

I went around to help him look for the keys. We looked under his truck; rechecked his pockets; in the seat; before finally, I thought, maybe he left them on the counter inside when he went in to pay. His face brighten, “I did. I remember setting them down. ” He thanked me and as I turned to go back to my car he asked, “Pastor, what did you mean by empty?”

There are consequences for ignoring God. He wants to bless us. He has a plan for our lives to prosper us and not to harm us. (Jeremiah 29:11); but some are missing out because they have chosen to ignore God; to be too busy for God; to justify their absence from God; to take for granted His goodness. How tragic to allow one’s heart to become hardened or inattentive toward God.

What about you? Is your God tank running on empty? When is the last time you prayed to God? When is the last time you read His word or worshipped Him in church? Maybe its time for you to check your gauge. You wouldn’t want to run-out.

Cue the Rocky theme song…

It isn’t often that I am able to watch television. The other night, Connie and I were so exhausted from the events of the day, we decided to find a movie to enjoy together. After flipping through channels, we came across the Rocky movie starring Sylvester Stallone. It was at the moment when Rocky determines he is going to try and the infamous song begins to play. My heart started to beat rapidly inspired by the music and his desire to rise above the obstacles, no matter the odds, and try.

Henry Ford experienced financial brokenness five different times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company. Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper because he lacked imagination. Albert Einstein was considered mentally handicapped because he didn’t speak until between the ages of 3 and 4 years and he didn’t begin to read until after the age of seven. Isaac Newton did not do well in school and under his care, his family’s farm failed. An uncle took over and sent Isaac to Cambridge. Winston Churchill struggled in school and when he entered the political arena, he suffered repeated defeats before he finally was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Harrison Ford was told he lacked the ability to be a star by film directors.

Some of you find yourself in failed businesses, marriages, educational pursuits, friendships, and projects. Life seems to be using you as a punching bag and you are tired. Some of you don’t want to fight anymore. What needs to happen is our perception of failure needs to change. We need to see failure as an experiment that didn’t quite work; learn what went wrong; and try something different or try it again. We need to take the discouragement that is weighing us down and get encouraged again. We need to leave the bitterness and hurt behind and move forward in a new direction. We need to cue the Rocky theme song in our lives and get going!

Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

God is not done with you. His plans for you are good! It isn’t over. What it takes is believing in a Father who loves you and wants what is best for you. Whatever you are facing today, you can rise above it; you can get through it; you can make a way; trust in the power of God.

Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the  power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

What to do with 5 daughters

Numbers 27 tells us of a father named Zelophehad who had 5 daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. By the law, land inheritance passed from father to sons, not father to daughters, and Zelophehad had died. These sisters come before Moses and petition his help. “Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.” Numbers 27:3-4.

It is important to understand the courage it took for the 5 sisters to go before Moses. These were women in a culturally different environment. They are asking Moses to change the law, to make an exception, to go against the norm. They are asking the “etched- in-stone” impossible. Also, it is done with wisdom and humility. They didn’t create a ruckus; or secretly try to defy the law. It is done in a manner worthy of representatives of God. The land was important to them not only economically but because it was a part of their father and his name should be preserved. Their intent was to honor the memory of their father as well.

“And Moses brought their cause before the Lord. 6 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 7 The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.”

Maybe there are problems in your life right now that seemed, “etched-in-stone” impossible. You may believe it isn’t even worth asking. What is done – is done! It can’t change; it can’t be resolved; no one can help! I bet these 5 daughters entertained those same thoughts as well; but, they didn’t stay there. They sought a solution in God.

Moses could have dismissed them. Maybe there are people petitioning you for help. Maybe you are in the position of Moses. Does it seem too high a mountain to climb? Does their plight even matter to you? With great wisdom, Moses knew to bring their case before God. He could’ve judge them himself; he could’ve decided the potential uproar of changing the law to accommodate the daughters of Zelophehad were not worth it; the law and culture were on his side; but instead, Moses petitioned God. Maybe you need to ask God’s guidance instead of relying on your own.

God didn’t just rule for these 5 daughters, He instructed Moses to change the law and gave him specific scenarios as examples of how to distribute property. Because of their request, future generations benefited.

When faced with difficult challenges today, seek the Lord’s advice and wait for His answer. He cares about the details of our lives and how we interact and deal with eachother and the issues which present themselves to us.

Blessed is the one

Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,  and who meditates on his law day and night.”

Blessed is the oneThose words in and of themselves should make us stand up and take notice. Isn’t that what we all want? To be blessed by God? When I read those words I want to say, “Yes! What do I need to do?” We have no problem when we hear an ad on TV, “Lose 20 pounds in two weeks. Follow this full-proof plan!” We grab our phones and start dialing to order for $19.99 a month. Here, the Holy Spirit is telling us how to have a blessed life.

who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockersNo one wants or sets out to be a sinner. A four-year old doesn’t profess to his parents, “I think I’ll grow up to be wicked.” Sin has a way of creeping up on us unexpectedly at times and blatantly at others. It should not be welcomed in our homes, our cars, our workplace, our schools. We do not want its company. We do not want to follow its example.

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.God wants us to make Him a daily habit. Everything in scripture leads up to Christ. The  ultimate goal in reading the Bible is not so we can win a Bible trivia contest or quote scripture to impress others; it is to cultivate a relationship with the Savior of the world. From cover to cover, the Bible is all about our salvation. Why wouldn’t we read it?

2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Knocked down but never out

2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

When I lived in Mississippi as a boy, every year in a nearby town a contest was held to find “the toughest guy”. In a makeshift boxing arena set up by a team of traveling professional boxers, the locals would fight one another in elimination rounds for the chance on the final night to duke it out with one of the professionals. At the end of three consecutive nights, the local left standing would fight for prize money and the title. I wasn’t old enough to enter; but if I were, I knew facing my mama when I got home would be worse than anybody they put in that ring with me.

One year a big ol boy named Rodney Chapman had beat every fighter put in the ring with him. He was one of the local favorites and everyone wanted him to beat the professional fighter on the last night. Rodney had a punch like Sugar Ray but was the size of Mohammed Ali. On the final night it was standing room only. We couldn’t wait to see who Rodney would be facing. To our surprise a guy twice his size entered the ring.  The room fell silent and the cigar smoke hung in the air like a thick cover of dust. My friend’s dad had taken his son and me to watch the fight. We were close enough to feel the moisture from the overheated men in the ring. And the excitement and anxiety of the audience made my heart pound. I really wanted Rodney to win. His challenger’s name was Goliath.

Sometimes in life we are hard pressed on all sides. Paul knew what it was like when he wrote the scripture in Corinthians. There are times when we can catch it from all sides: trouble, heartache, pain, sickness, worry. We might feel the pressure mounting from all directions; but, we will never be hemmed in or crushed.

Sometimes we do not know which way to turn. Nothing makes sense and there seems no real answer. Confusion surrounds us and no one can help. The best part is, although we don’t know what to do, God does. We may not be able to see the big picture of the plan, but God can.

Sometimes we are struck down – that “coming out of nowhere” blow which knocks us to our knees. The tornadoes of life which wipe us out. Leave us wondering where it all came from and where we go from here.

Rodney went 10 rounds with Goliath. Time after time, he hit the ground, but somehow found his feet before the final count down. Time after time, Rodney seemed boxed into a corner with no way out. His face bloodied from the fight, his breath shallow, sweat pouring from his body; and yet, he hadn’t been knocked out.

Finally, in the last round of the fight, Rodney caught Goliath with a left hook in just the right spot on the chin, to knock that big guy to the ground. The crowd erupted. As he turned to greet the cheers with clenched fists of victory, I noticed a tatoo on the back of his neck, 2 Corinthians 4:8&9.

I wish God promised us an easy life, a life filled with more wins than losses; but He doesn’t. On the contrary, God says we will be surrounded by troubles but it will not overcome us. While we may be confused, we will not lose heart. And there will be times we are knocked down but never out.

How much I love you…

1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

What is this word love that the Bible speaks so much about? How do we find it and hold on to it? When in doubt, I look back on three particular days in my life. The day my son David was born. The day my son Daniel was born. And the day my daughter Reneé was born. The overwhelming sensation and feel of my children in my arms for the first time is when the 1 Corinthians 13 love was so incredibly real to me. And then they begin to grow up and that love is challenged.

I remember when Connie and I got married. Could any man love a woman more? On my wedding day, impossible, I thought. The moment we exchanged vows, all seemed right with the world. That’s when the 1 Corinthians 13 love resonated within me. Totally sold-out. 100% with it. And then life happens and that love is challenged.

You see, love isn’t easy. We’d like to believe it is. It seems simple enough at the movies or in books. The reality of love, true love, tells us it is one of the toughest emotions to maintain; and yet, it is the most important. Love is a daily commitment. It is asking God every day to help us to love others as He loves them. It is realizing without God we do not have the ability to love as He does.

Many years ago, I stood at the death-bed of a woman who had been married to the same man for 63 years. He sat next to her in the last remaining minutes of her life, gently rubbing her hand. She asked him to sing their song and he started, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey…” Her lips curled upward in a soft smile as she closed her eyes. He couldn’t continue his song. The love of his life was leaving him. He paused momentarily to hear her words, “Ed,” she began, “If there is marriage in Heaven, will you find me and choose me?”

“My love,” he answered, brushing back a strand of grey hair off her forehead, “Even if there isn’t marriage in Heaven, I’ll find you and marry you all over again.”

“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Today, on Valentine’s Day, think about how you love. Is your love conditional? Is it performance based? Does it persevere? Does it endure? Some of us may need to rethink our definition of love. Some of us need to find our 1 Corinthians 13 love.

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”